Quilting is as old as the hills, and for many, has
that wonderful combination of domestic necessity,
social cohesion, and craftwork and commemoration.
Quilting methods don’t vary enormously throughout
the world, but the designs are largely specific to
a country, or a society, although the traditional
American patchwork designs have become loved world
It is wonderful to have such a craft, which is a
means of handing down traditions amongst womenfolk
mainly, and which has an end product that can both
look beautiful, and keep you warm at night.
An exception to this is of course the Hawaiian
quilting tradition, which began under the tutelage
of the missionaries, and evolved into a means of
recording the Hawaiian beliefs and lives. Their
quilts talk of their gods, their departed spirits,
the new members of their society yet to be born,
and the main historical and cultural events of
their society. Their use of the beautiful flowers
and the love of their culture gives Hawaiian
quilting a truly magical and precious quality.
In colder climates, the quilting circle was an
opportunity for the women to come together, to talk
over the major matters of the day and to provide
invaluable support for each other.
The new settlers in The United States of America
were hardy and tough. Most of them had to start
from scratch. Homes had to be built, and
furnished, and in these days, nearly everything had
to be grown or made.
Needlework was a very necessary skill for a woman.
Without this, they would not be able to make their
clothes, and would not be able to make the soft
furnishings that not only ‘make a house into a
home’, but are necessary for keeping out draughts
from windows and doors, and for keeping everyone
warm at night.
When societies became more established and there
was money and time available, the quilting circle
would make quilts to commemorate certain events,
and together produce really large quilts that would
adorn the walls of the buildings that served as
And of course, the social network was invaluable.
The older women would pass on their skills as
needlewomen, and designers of quilts and other
crafts. More importantly, they would pass on the
invaluable knowledge about family life.
Childbirth, medicines for common ailments, cooking
and how to grow herbs and vegetables – this was the
sub-text, and the very important function of the
Clearly in different times, and different places,
the women would have different topics that would
dominate the quilting circles’ conversations.
The quilting circle was common place. It was
necessary, it was helpful and social, and it
produced wonderful pieces of work for individuals
and for communities.
These days, many women live in relative social
isolation. Perhaps more so within the much more
heavily populated urban environments where most of
Maybe we should rekindle the spark – and start new
quilting circles – everywhere!!
Chapter One –
The History of Quilting
Hawaiian quilting is said to have started when the
wives of two chiefs were introduced to quilting by
missionaries on board a boat. Hawaiians would not
naturally have begun to quilt for domestic use, as
quilts were not needed in the warm Hawaiian
The missionaries showed the Hawaiians how to cut up
fabrics into pieces and then sew them back
together. This the Hawaiians found rather
wasteful, as they were careful with all their
resources and didn’t understand the concept of
cutting up a large piece of material, only to sew
pieces of it back together, and then be left with
bits that couldn’t be used.
Eventually, the Hawaiians found a way of using
their own clothing fabric (called tapa) which they
folded to achieve 1/4 or 1/8 patterns, and they
gave any waste pieces back to the missionaries for
them to use in their own quilting. This tapa was
from tree bark.
The unique nature of the Hawaiian quilting is clear
in their use of local flora, and the spirit world
as design influences for their quilts.
Conceptually, they used quilts to record their
environment, their departed love ones, and their
still to be born. Their quilts were also strongly
about the Hawaiian identity and the identity of the
individual members of their society.
The Hawaiian Gods, their rites and ceremonies, and
their history, are all depicted in the wonderful
Hawaiian quilts. Local events and major historical
events were all beautifully detailed and preserved
in their quilts. In fact, all their quilts have a
story to tell, or